- Most tube-wells go out of operation in March-April
Jharna Tripura, 24, said she would have to wait for more than an hour to fill all the four of her pitchers with drinking water from a small shallow well at the foot of a hill in Tongthak Para – about five kilometres off the district headquarters.
Then it will take her at least two hours to carry the water to their hilltop home as she has to travel more than a kilometre twice with two pitchers at a time. Like Jharna, eight to 10 girls and women, including Ukrachi, a student of Class VIII, and Anuchi Marma, a student of Class III, were waiting patiently about 5:30pm on Saturday around the three feet deep open well in which water was being replenished slowly but steadily.
They have to walk along a muddy path on a steep hill with the water pots on their heads.
‘I am worried whether I will be able to get water home before the sun sets as you know it is very risky to walk along the steep path on the hill,’ Jharna, wife of a day-labourer, told New Age. ‘All the girls and women have to take the risk every day, as the men remain busy with other work,’ she added. Anuchi said she came to the well twice a day to collect drinking water. Locals believe the quality of water of these open wells is good in the dry season but the water gets contaminated during the monsoon and the muddy paths on the hills also become dangerous.
Forty-six families live at Tongthak Para in Parachari union under Khagrachari Sadar upazila. The people in the area face an acute water crisis in around March and April as most of the tube wells do not function and even the waterfalls go dry due to depletion in the water table, which many think is caused by deforestation in the hill district – home to a number of indigenous peoples.
Hill peoples in other remote upazilas like Dighinala, Matiranga, Panchari, Manikchari, and Ramgarh face a similar water crisis in the lean season, when the water level goes down. During this period they either depend on waterfalls or small holes created by the waterfalls at the feet of the hills. Asked about the water crisis, Khagrachari Hill District Council chairman Kuzendra Lal Tripura said around 70 per cent of the people there had access to sanitation. ‘But there was a crisis of safe water in some remote areas, including Dighinala and Laksmichari,’ he added. The council is responsible for overall coordination of all development activities in the hill district.
The executive engineer of the department of health engineering at Khagrachari, Sohrab Hossain, admitted that most of the ring-wells and tube-wells mostly provided by the DPHE became dysfunctional in March to April. Water from open wells is not safe for drinking as it may contain bacteria, he added. Md Rafiqul Islam, a health officer at Khagrachari Sadar Hospital, said diarrhoea and typhoid were common diseases in the remote upazilas. ‘We have an increased number of diarrhoea patients from Dighinala. Usually in February, the disease in some areas spread like an epidemic,’ he added.
Dighinala upazila parishad chairman Dharma Bir confirmed that hundreds of people in the remote upazila suffer from diarrhoea and other water-born diseases due to insufficient access to safe drinking water. He said the upazila had a lone 11-bed health complex with four doctors for 1,40,000 people. There are also 11 community clinics, where some health workers provide primary health services to the people, he added. The upazila chairman said the water crisis had become particularly acute with the River Maini becoming almost dead.